Mike Busser learned the lesson of diversification the difficult way.
His father, Bill, operated Glacier Tool & Mold Inc., a mold maker and injection molder based in Reedsburg, Wis. The family was forced to close the doors in 1993 upon the loss of a customer that made up 80 percent of its sales. Glacier had been in operation since the 1970s.
``I learned more about a business watching one go out of business than starting a business,'' Busser said. ``We just know that we'll never allow ourselves to get too deep with one customer.''
Now he's chief operating officer of Micro Technologies Inc., also in Reedsburg. The firm made its debut at the National Hardware Show in Chicago with its first product for the hardware industry: a clear lid for residential mailboxes.
After a string of mailbox bombings in the United States earlier this year, Busser and partner Dave Pace found a way to make contents visible when the box is closed, by injection molding polycarbonate on a 165-ton press.
Although Micro's custom molding business declined last year, the company's proprietary products helped the firm's grow 15 percent, setting a sales record. Busser would not provide details, but said Micro's annual sales are between $1 million and $5 million.
``[Proprietary products] turned out to be two-thirds of the business and growing,'' he said. ``Diversification is key in proprietary lines. We diversified proprietarily in different markets.''
Busser and Pace are seeking mass merchandising for the lid through hardware chains such as True Value and big-box retailers like Wal-Mart Stores Inc.
They also see diversification as a way to leverage their expertise and build the custom end of the business.
``We really don't know where it's going to go,'' Busser said. ``It's a specialty item. We've got the patent on it, so we're protected.''
Micro Technologies is best known for its polyethylene replacement wads for shotguns, touting itself as the first to introduce color in the product.
Micro has 12 employees and eight machines with clamping forces of 24-500 tons. Busser said he has no immediate plans to expand the 14,000-square foot facility or bring in more machinery.